In our judicial system, any party who suffers some damage or injury from the act of a private individual or of the state can approach the court. In this process, it is essential to demonstrate that the person approaching the court must have suffered some injury or his legal right has been violated. In other words, there shall be a sufficient nexus between the injury caused and the person approaching the court. This doctrine is known as “Locus Standi” and it ensures that only the bonafide parties came to the court. However, in recent times, the rule of locus standi has been relaxed and even allowed a public-spirited citizen to approach the court on behalf of poor and downtrodden people.
Meaning of Locus Standi
The Latin Maxim “Locus Standi” consists of two words namely “locus” which means place and “standi” means the right to bring an action. So, collectively, it means the right to appear or the right to bring an action before the court. As per this maxim, one person needs to show his legal capacity before approaching the court. It means the person can only approach the court when his personal interest is suffered or an injury is inflicted upon him. This maxim is one of the fundamental principles of the adversarial litigation system.
In India, the concept of locus standi is mentioned under Order 7 Rule 11 of the civil procedure code, 1908. For instituting any action, the plaintiff or the appellant must prove his locus standi first and the trial will start thereafter. The court can dismiss the entire case, irrespective of its merit if the requirement of locus standi is not fulfilled.
Illustration – In a commercial transaction between A and B, A acted fraudulently and due to which B suffered whopping damage of 100 crore. Now, only A has the locus standi to approach the court as his legal right is violated.
Essential ingredients of Locus Standi
As per order 7 Rule 11 of the Civil procedure code, 1908, there are certain ingredients that a party must follow. These ingredients are as follows –
Presence of Injury:
The primary requirement for instituting a suit is that the person must have suffered some injury. As per the Oxford dictionary, the term injury means the violation of any legal right or some other physical or monetary harm that occurred to any person. The injury can occur from the act of private parties or the act of state. It is also important to note that the injury may be actual or maybe anticipatory. Further, the nature of the injury can be economic or non-economic.
illustration – A booth office prohibited a person from casting his vote. Now the person’s legal right is infringed and he will have the locus standi to approach the court.
The term causation means the cause and effect relationship. It means that there shall be a sufficient relationship between the act of one party and the injury suffered by the other party. The main object of this ingredient is to ensure that the injury can be traced back to the action of the defendant. It also further ensures that the impugned injury is not related to some independent or some other third party.
Illustration – A local cable TV operator approached the court against the BCCI by stating that he has suffered huge damage due to the suspension of IPL on account of covid 19. The court will dismiss the suit at the outset because there is no direct relationship between the act of the BCCI and the monetary injury that occurred to him. So, he doesn’t have the locus standi to institute a suit against BCCI.
In the case of Sh. Ved Prakash v. S.H.O, the plaintiff filed an injunction and he claimed to be the owner of the 1/6th share of the family. After conducting the due inquiry, the court stated that the plaintiff has no locus standi in the present case as no cause of action arises.
The exception to the rule of Locus Standi-Public Interest Litigation:
From the period of independence, there is an alarming rise in the poverty and unemployment rate. A lot of people didn’t have the necessary resources to approach the court. They were grossly exploited by others and their legal rights were deeply prejudiced. The cost of litigation was very high and the people due to money and illiteracy were not approaching the court. So, to remove the hardship of law, a new concept of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) came into existence. It was the result of the efforts of judicial activism in a direction to achieve justice in a true sense.
Meaning of Public Interest Litigation
The literal meaning of “Public Interest Litigation” itself is the litigation in the interest of the public at large. The hon’ble supreme court in the case of Janata Dal v. Chaudhary, 1992 defined the term ‘Public Interest Litigation’. As per the court, PIL means a legal action brought in the court of law on behalf of those persons whose legal rights are violated and they can’t approach the court due to their economic or socially disadvantageous position.
In this public interest litigation, the strict rule of Locus Standi is relaxed and a broad rule is adopted to meet the requirement of changing times. It is not essential that a person must have suffered some injury before instituting a suit. Now, a public-spirited person can bring a suit on behalf of any person whose rights have been affected. There is no need to have a direct relationship with the person who suffered the injury. However, another important prerequisite for instituting PIL is that the person must be acting in a bona fide manner. There shouldn’t be any personal gain, private profit or some political motivation behind it.
Landmark Cases of Public Interest Litigation
Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdul
The seeds of the first PIL originated in this case wherein Hon’ble Justice Iyyer allowed a writ petition under article 32 relating to the inhumane condition of labourers. It was filed by a labour association that doesn’t have a direct relationship with the concerned labour. However, the court allowed the petition and issued necessary directions.
Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, 1979
It was the first official case of Public Interest Litigation and it focussed on the adverse condition of under trial prisoners. An advocate approached the court based on a news column published on Indian Express highlighting the severe condition of prisoners. The court allowed this appeal and a whopping 40,000 prisoners were released from jail due to that PIL. The court construed the right to speedy justice as a fundamental right of a prisoner. This case laid the foundation of Public Interest Litigation in India.
MC Mehta vs Union of India
This is one of the landmark cases in the history of environmental jurisprudence in India. The concept of absolute liability was also derived from this case. In this case, a writ petition was filed by a social activist lawyer named M.C Mehta reporting the manufacturing of hazardous substances in a residential place. Justice P.N Bhagwati adjudicated the writ and pronounced a historical verdict by holding the industry absolutely liable for his conduct and it was not entitled to use any exceptions.
Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan
In this case, an NGO approached the court against the sexual harassment of female employees at the workplace. The court in its historic verdict issued a large set of guidelines relating to the safety of women at the workplace. In 2013, these guidelines were codified through the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Procedure to File a Public Interest Litigation
As per various judicial precedents, any citizen of India can approach the court on behalf of the public interest by filing a petition under the following heads –
- A person can approach the Hon’ble Supreme court under Article 32 of the constitution with a request to issue a writ or pass any suitable order.
- The person also possesses the right to approach his concerned high court (based on the geographical location) to issue a writ under Article 226 of the constitution.
- Lastly, the person is entitled to approach the court of the magistrate under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code. (CRPC).
Grounds for rejecting a PIL
There are no specified grounds on which a PIL can be rejected. However, our apex court has laid down certain criteria for a PIL not admissible in the court of law. These grounds are hereinbelow provided –
The principle of Res Judicata is enshrined under section 11 of the Civil procedure code 1908. This principle states that a party to a suit is not entitled to go for another suit if a petition is already pending in another court of law. For applying this principle, the nature and the content of both the suit must be the same. This principle is the cornerstone of both the civil and criminal judicial system. Thus, any PIL that raises an issue, which is already under consideration of a competent judicial authority, can not be allowed to proceed as per the aforesaid principles.
Misrepresentation or Suppression of Facts
It is well-settled law that one should approach the court with clean hands. It means he should disclose all the necessary facts and shall act honestly. If he indulged in false or fraudulent practices involving the suppression of facts, then the court can reject the PIL straight away. In K Welcome Hotel v. State of Andhra Pradesh: A PIL is filed and the petitioners have not shown its complete turnover in the pleadings and later on, the court came to know about it. The court rejected the appeal.
The term infructuous means that there is no legal authority left on the matter. It is generally said when the course of action required in the PIL ceases to exist. In the case of Mohit v. District Magistrate, a petition was filed under Article 32 to issue the writ of habeas corpus. However, the person was released during the pendency of the proceedings. Now, the petition became infructuous.
Not Impleading the Necessary Parties
In public interest litigation, it is very important to plead the necessary parties in the case. In a landmark case of Krishna Swamy v. Union of India, the writ petition was related to the removal of a sitting Supreme Court Judge from his office, but the Hon’ble Judge was not made a party to it. The petition was therefore dismissed on this sole ground.
Other Exceptions of the rule of Locus Standi
Apart from Public Interest Litigation, there are some other exceptions also to the maxim of locus standi. These exceptions are as follows –
Some exceptions are very well settled due to their nature and scope. For example, In the writ of habeas corpus, a person’s near relative approaches the court as the detained person can’t avail the remedy. Even, in the case of murder or other offenses in which the person lost his life, the rule of locus standi is relaxed and his family member or other person lodges the complainant to seek justice. A minor is also generally represented by his father or guardian in a suit.
Furthermore, the concept of class action is also recognised in India wherein a single represents the interest of a particular class that suffered some damages. Lastly, in case of nuisance or any wrongful act, a suit for injunction or declaration can be filed by the advocate general with the court’s prior permission or by 2 or more persons which may not directly be affected by the impugned nuisance. It is recognised under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Constitutionality of legislation
It has also been observed that sometimes the rule of locus standi is relaxed when the constitutionality of legislation comes into question. In India, the legality of any statute can be challenged in the court of law without showing the direct harm inflicted by the statute.
There are instances wherein a statute include a provision that relaxed the strict requirement of locus standi. This provision is incorporated by putting the phrase like person aggrieved or aggrieved person. However, if any dispute arises, then the court interprets the phrase as per the facts and background. The words ‘person aggrieved’ indicate a wider scope and it not only includes the person who actually suffered the loss but also the person who is apprehensive of the future loss.
The maxim of locus Standi is one of the core principles of civil law and it is enshrined under Rule 7 Order 11 of the Civil procedure code, 1908. It states that only the person who suffered some injury can approach the court. However, this rule was proving to be a hindrance as some people were not approaching the court due to their financial or social condition. Thus, the hon’ble supreme court relaxed this maxim and started a new concept called PIL wherein any public citizen can approach the court for the betterment of society at large.